The Wall of Honour
The National War Museum
Well we've really done some proper travelling since we last posted, all of 10 days ago! From Sydney to Newcastle to Hunter Valley to the Blue Mountains and finally to Canberra. All in our little camp camper van. We've also got another name for her but first things first....
Before hitting the road we spent the morning at the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Remembrance Parade in central Sydney. This was a quite moving experience being up close to thousands of veterans, we've seen the British Remembrance Day Parades before on TV but the atmosphere when you're actually there is really something, seeing the old boys (and girls) faces up close with both tears and pride beaming from them was something we won't forget in a hurry, especially after learning more of their stories at the Australian War Museum in Canberra a few days later. Also we've never seen as many bag pipes, Australia could give Scotland a run for its money..Dad you'd have loved that part of it!
Anyway we picked up the Hippie Camper, unaffectionately referred to for the 10 days to come as the "Little Bitch!", the reasons for which will soon become apparent!
First stop was Newcastle
We we're relieved our friends from Boracay, Francois and Kristina, were around to meet us as we'd left it a bit late to contact them. They kindly put us up for a couple of nights so we were spared the pleasure of the van. We had a lovely meal at a local restaurant in "Newy" and chatted about Boracay and what we've all been up to since, before ending the day with a few games of cards. The next day we took in the local sights (what a beach!), although it was SO windy we almost blew off the promenade! We also had a look around the City's fort with their impressive guns still in place pointing out to sea where they'd once been aimed at plucky Japanese submarines!
After a not so successful dinner cooked by Steve and me (we wanted to practice our Thai cooking that we learnt in Chiang Mai), we headed off to church. Kristina and Francois are part of 'The Born Again Christian' church and wanted to show us what it was all about. It was a really weird but interesting experience, it was like a show/gig/church/lecture, nothing like
what me and Steve are used to from back home. Anyway, travelling is all about experiencing new and different things, but neither me, nor Steve were converted. After the church, we packed warm blankets, snacks and drinks into the van and set off to a place in the middle of nowhere, where they have a drive in cinema. Everyone made their backseat into a bed (not us, because we already had a bed in the back of ours) then the sound came from the car radio, it was really cool, just like an American blockbuster. The following morning we left for Hunter Valley.
We arrived at the small town of Cessnock in the Hunter Valley
around one o'clock and went straight to the tourist information. We were told about the different vine tasting tours, vineyards and other choices of accommodation. After finding our campsite we drove straight up to the vineyards, to a place called Tyrrell’s, where we had been told you could get a guided tour around the vineyard for $5. The guide was excellent, he told us everything you need to know about wine making and showed us all the different stages. After the tour we
got a free glass of vine to go with the 4 or 5 we'd had before the tour.
We were a bit disappointed with the campsite, so the second day we moved to the YHA car park, where we were allowed to use all the hostel's facilities. We also booked in for a wine tasting tour, which turned out to be absolutely fantastic. The tour included wine tasting at 4 vineyards, one party drink tasting (including hot chili vodka Wow), olive tasting, cheese tasting and chocolate tasting. We started drinking wine at 10.00 in the morning and we're pretty drunk by 12.00, obviously not taking advantage of the spittoons! All in all we tried 50 different wines.
There was about ten people doing the tour, all different ages, and as the day went on we all became friends. I think it was due to the wine. Most people bought loads of bottles, we didn't buy any, we'd had enough wine for a while so finished the day with a beer instead! We did splash out a jar of the nicest kalamata olives we have ever tried (garlic and port). The tour guide Brian was really knowledgeable and made
The Three Sisters
at the Blue Mountains
the tour special. We would really recommend the tour, but we can't remember the name of it =).
The next day, after a long hard sleep, we set off for the Blue Mountains
where the temperature dropped by 10 degrees and where we quickly fell out with the van, it was just too cold and too small! From this point the tour can be pretty much summed up as great days and bad nights in the god damned little...ok so you get the picture haha!
The main town of Katoomba was a nice cozy place, like you'd imagine a small small town in Canada to be like I suppose. Again after reviewing the local campsite we opted for the YHA car park again and set about cooking dinner in the huge catering kitchen after stopping at the local supermarket to buy some warm socks! Half way through dinner some familiar faces came over, Imke and Martin who we'd met in Cairns and a friend from Germany. So off we went to the only pub in town and the rest is a bit hazy.
With a sore head the next morning we vowed to conquer the Giant Staircase,
3000 ft down, past the amazing Three Sisters to the valley below. Boy did we get a surprise! The staircase literally snaked its way around the cliff edges, in some parts it even formed a bridge between sections, whats worse is the stairs were sort of metal grills so you could see straight down! We we're holding on for dear life (especially Steve who was a bit more hung over than me)! We were both relieved to reach the bottom shall we say.
From the bottom there were two choices to get back up, either a cable car, or the steepest railway in the world..officially. Obviously we took the latter. Well "railway" is a bit generous, its actually a converted mine track, almost vertical in places with seats fashioned out of an original mine truck, or thats what it felt like. The only way up was backward, through a tunnel, and Maja's face on the picture tells the full story haha!
Contrary to the advice of everyone we've met and some people we haven’t (Bill Bryson), we decided to head to the Capital City of Canberra
for a couple of nights and are glad we did, we even
stayed an extra night! It just shows you, you have to make your own mind up about a place and the only way to do that is to go there!
Canberra is a bit of a strange place as it was only formed and given its name around 1920 when the heads of the countrys two biggest cities, Melbourne and Sydney, couldn’t agree which one should hold the parliament. "Sod it, we'll build a new city half way between the two then and call that the capital" someone apparently said haha.
We'd heard that it was really quiet, boring and pretty much a huge office park with some landscaped gardens dotted around. Well we're happy to report thats not the case! We really like it here, maybe its because we've been holed up in the "little bitch" for 10 freezing nights but it turns out its actually one of our favorite places in Aus so far. It’s clean, green, got a huge river running through it, friendly people, good shops and resto's..come on guys what more do you want 😊
We spent the first day at the National War Monument & Museum which proclaims itself as one
of the worlds greatest museums and its not wrong there. As our regular readers will have now gathered museums are not our favorite pastime but this place was amazing! Its huge and filled with all sorts of interactive exhibits and articles, it’s actually worth coming to Canberra just to see this place. We jumped into a tour group led by an eccentric old chap who took us around the whole place explaining everything from WWI and WW2 with the aid of all the exhibits and his great stories of course. We heard loads of breath stopping stories, including that of Gallipoli which neither of us knew anything about..he was a brilliant guide! We came out of that place with even more respect for the old veterans we'd seen marching at the ANZAC Parade just over a week ago!
Today started with a jog (no kidding) around the grounds of the Australian Sports Institute which is next to our campsite and where all of the countrys premier athletes go to train, from swimmers to cricketers. Unfortunately we didn't see any recognizable faces but it is a Sunday, maybe they were all at church. After that Steve discovering his new favorite
breakfast, eggs benedict, and then we drove out to a nearby forrest where a National Bike Race was finishing which our friend Francois was competing in.
Unfortunately we missed him by half an hour but we did see his name on the bottom of the results list..what happened there mate! Only kidding, well done for finishing, 5 and a half hours in the saddle is about 5 hours more than we could ever manage! We couldn't ring you last night because we lost our phone somewhere in the van, it was ringing (until the battery died!) so is in there somewhere but we turned the "bitch" inside out this morning and couldn't find it anywhere, she's eaten it.
We then headed back into town for a tour around the shops to buy some more winter clothes, followed by a walk around the cities park from the Old Parliament Building to the New Parliament Building where we had lunch and even managed to sneak up onto the roof to take in the views, ok we didn't actually sneak but it felt like it a bit, not sure you can wander around the Houses of Parliament that freely back home!
We'll our Magical Mystery Tour is almost over and we think we deserve some luxury for a couple of nights so have booked in at the 4.5* Crown Plaza in Sydney's Darling Harbour for the next two days before flying to New Zealand of Wednesday. And before you think we've gone totally mad we got a great deal on Mystery Hotels at lastminute.com, basically you dont know which hotel it is until you've booked (at 70% off!) but Jon and Theres tipped us off when we met them..we're looking forward to it a lot. Our first luxury hotel since Hong Kong, not that we've exactly been roughing it haha.
So we have 5 weeks to tour around New Zealand before coming back to Australia to start work.
Hope you're all well and still awake after this mammoth entry!
Steve and Maja x
P.S Tuesday Update, the hotel is soooooooooo nice! When we booked we jokingly put it was our wedding anniversary on the email to try get a harbour view room. Not only did we get bumped up to a top floor harbour view delux room, an hour later a bottle of Champaign and a
card arrived from the management!
Now we do feel a bit guilty but after 10 freezing nights....ok ok we're off straight to hell 😊
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